National task force unveiled to deal with drone dangers

With rise in incidents involving remote-controlled aircraft, better coordination needed between ministries and security agencies, MKs hear

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: A remote-controlled drone with a camera attached to it, February 18, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative: A remote-controlled drone with a camera attached to it, February 18, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

A national task force slated to deal with safety and security issues connected to drones was unveiled Monday at a meeting of the Knesset’s State Control Committee. The new body, which will have its own dedicated budget, will be led by the air force, the committee heard.

It has been given six months to determine operating procedures, after which it will report back to the committee on whether or not to push for drone regulation.

Committee chair MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), however, said the timescale was “totally unreasonable,” given the imminent threat of a disaster involving a drone.

“It’s totally unreasonable in my opinion that after two and a half years of work by the National Security Council, we’re now told that that in another six months a decision will be made whether to regulate or not,” she said.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich attends a faction meeting in the Knesset on February 6, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Have you taken into account that an attack is likely to happen during that period? Why are you so slow?

Hitting out at what she called the “formalistic answers” it has received, she said the committee would revisit the issue in less than six months.

Yesh Atid lawmaker Haim Jelin said the threat from drones was equivalent to that posed by the cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The committee debate, some of which was held behind closed doors for security reasons, followed the publication in November of a scathing report by the state comptroller, which accused both security forces and regulators of failing to confront the threats posed to public safety by drones, some 20,000 of which are already owned by Israelis for a variety of purposes.

An Arkia Airlines plane at Ben Gurion Airport, file (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Brig. Gen. Yossi Beinhoren (res.), director of the security services’ control division, told the committee that as recently as December 13, Ben Gurion International Airport had to shut down for 15 minutes because a drone had entered its flight space. In May, a drone entered the landing area at the Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv, endangering a plane, and in January 2016, a helicopter passed just 50 meters away from a drone on the Herzliya beach in central Israel.

While just one incident of danger to safety from a drone was recorded in 2014, there were 24 in 2016. Figures for 2017 had not yet been released.

Eytan Ben-David, deputy head of the National Security Council, the main coordinating body for the various security organizations, said that two and a half years of work had yielded a “common language” between all those involved and a clear division of responsibility between the army and the police.

Brig Gen. Eden Atias, director general of Parazero, a company dealing in drone safety, said Israel should follow the American lead in having drones registered at the point of purchase and equipped with technological components that would allow for them to be identified in the air. The Pentagon recently launched a $700 million program to deal with the threat from UAVs, the committee heard from another drone businessman, Guy Cherni, of Atlas Dynamics.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s annual report at the Knesset on November 22, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state comptroller’s report said that while the Israel Defense Forces was responsible for countering drones flown by terrorist groups, it was not clear which security service was responsible for drones flown by Israelis within Israel.

The army saw it as the police’s domain, as it was a civilian matter, while the police saw it as the army’s, since it was responsible for securing the country’s airspace, it said.

The report also said that because drones flown for noncommercial purposes were not required to register, there was no information on some 98.6 percent of the drones estimated to be in Israeli hands.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed